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Is the ‘Internet of Things’ the surveillance of everything?

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Smart technology keeping track of uninformed citizens?

All over the media we hear buzzwords about “smart” technologies and the “Internet of Things or IoT”.  This seems to be the all the rage for the majority of people who carry or own one or more “smart” devices.  The hardware are all starting to pack new technologies in them, most notably the new ways of voice recognition and virtual assistants like Apple’s Siri, Microsoft’s Cortana and Google Now.  These work by constantly listening for your commands so they can find information and answer questions you pose to the device.

With how good these technologies are getting, consumers are becoming enamored with the use of this tech.   This is just one aspect, with ‘smartphones’ also starting to store financial and health data, they are actually able to make a virtual clone of the user which big data analysis techniques are used to create these user profiles.

This doesn’t just stop at smartphones, take the ‘smart televisions’.   First the manufacturers started adding a internet connection to the smart TVs, along with a bundle of pre-installed applications so you could stream internet content to your television.  Now we are seeing more ‘smart’ technology on the scene with their own version of smart assistants and voice commands.  Samsung got flak for their smart TVs because of the 46-page privacy policy that not only warns the user to not say anything private or sensitive information in-front or the device, it also told the owner that the information is sent to a ‘3rd party’ for external processing to improve the experience.  This is really scaring some people but those people are just paranoid, right?  Not quite.

The United States Intelligence Director did acknowledge that it may use the ‘Internet of Things’ devices in suspects homes to gather signals intelligence to help defeat international and domestic terrorists.  From their prospective, this has to be considered a goldmine for their trade-craft to help them do their jobs more effectively.  Where is gets scary is positions that national security agencies have taken that a person could be considered an “extremist” if they care about their privacy or use common encryption to secure their communications.  The trend direction is more devices adding capabilities that would allow surveillance agencies to have the ability to tap in and see what you are doing.  Intel announced a new mobile computer chip that will have functionalities built-in so they are always listening and waiting for user commands.  For most users this likely will not raise any concern that would prevent them from using the new technology.   Many feel they do not have anything to hide so they figure if someone was monitoring their activities they would quickly realize they are not a threat.    My concern would be if corrupt officials used it for personal use or if it was used for commercial espionage to potential gleam proprietary information or trade secrets.

It doesn’t just stop with mobile & entertainment devices.   You even have the power utility companies are using the ‘smart grid’ to monitor electrical usage and that data could be run through filters and analysis to spot unusual patterns that may create alerts that would bring additional scrutiny from investigators and law enforcement.   There are even ‘smart lights‘ that have the ability to track your movements to increase efficiency by switching off lights that are not being used but if that is coupled with cameras and facial recognition software, you would have a pretty interesting surveillance system.   With all this technology being deployed, no one seems out of reach of this grid of tracking, even United States Congress members got caught up in a CIA investigation.

People need to be aware how this technology works and should use common sense when they determine how much convenience they want in their smart devices.  They needs to know there are trade-offs and those come with less privacy in some ways.  Make sure you read the privacy statements and terms of services so you understand how the devices operate and what data it may be gathering on you without your knowledge or consent.

 

Written by Tally Stick

March 2nd, 2016 at 1:47 am